By Maisie Cocker, editor in chief
I kept my computer’s camera off for many treacherous months of online classes. I had rarely experienced social anxiety. Yet, in virtual school, I found myself riddled with nerves even through the screen. I had been yearning for some form of connection, yet the second I had to present my face on zoom or turn my microphone on to answer a question I was consumed by nerves. The consequences of social isolation have gone further than adults may assume. Having a focused box of your face displayed to your peers is intimidating. The usual spotlight effect becomes amplified. As a high school student, you’re unsure of who you are, hyper-aware of any physical flaw you may have, and overall bombarded with a plethora of insecurities.
I had heard of students commenting on each other’s appearances via text message. Virtual school has allowed cyber-bullying to resurface in a disturbingly subtle way. One instance a fellow classmate of mine experienced includes a text exchange where one student refers to them as looking like a “middle-aged lesbian on crack.” First of all, using ‘lesbian’ in a derogatory way is just plain homophobic. Secondly, it’s a fact that high schoolers have always been devious. However, the ability to hyperfocus on someone’s appearance over a screen plus added privacy to conceive an absurd insult has highlighted how relentless students can be. Especially with the bravery of being behind a screen.
In addition to physical presentation, with the lack of social cues, there’s no way to be sure if that thought you’ve shared with the class was well received. There’s no feedback. When you’re left wondering if that project you just presented was good or bad, your mind wanders.
With all of these thoughts racing amongst the uncertainty of virtual school, fears of judgment or failure are heightened. These newfound feelings of anxiety prove a trend. The New York Times shares that during 2020, “the proportion of pediatric emergency admissions for mental problems, like panic and anxiety, was up by 24 percent for young children and 31 percent for adolescents.” Evidently, it’s becoming a medical issue.
If a student isn’t turning on a camera, it’s not because they hate the class. The judgemental nature of high school, in addition to the inevitable technological mishaps, are creating a nerve-racking environment. A study by the US National Library of Medicine prescribes the necessary clinical implications of “specific screening measures and interventions to improve mental health of students” to be, “urgently warranted.” Mental health is no joke, and the ramifications of COVID on the ways we approach social situations are going to continue to follow us for years to come.